My Journey Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce
My work with people with learning disabilities began in 2002 at United Voice, a Self-Advocacy Society of People with Learning Disabilities. When I first started working in this organisation, I remember feeling as though I had been placed in a foreign land where people seemed to be in a world all on their own. I was new and bright-eyed at the same time anxious to know how I was going to make the world a better place for them. To my surprise, they soon became my comrades and I have learned much from them during my 9 years of service with them in developing United Voice, the first society in Malaysia that is led by people with learning disabilities.
HOW I STARTED MY EA JOURNEY
My journey with Enabling Academy (EA) started even before Gamuda set up this programme. Between 2011 and 2015, I was working as a project consultant with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Malaysia on a joint project with the Department of Social Welfare – Supported Employment for people with disabilities. One of my key roles during my involvement in the development of supported employment in Malaysia was to train job coaches and create awareness for the private sector on sustainable employment for people with disabilities nationwide.
Whilst working here, I had the opportunity to work with companies from various industries – retail, hotels, manufacturing, IT, Telecommunications such as VADs and fast food chains. This led to a chance meeting with Gamuda. They had just started their own Project Differently-Abled (DA) in 2013. Gamuda had consulted my team at JICA and DSW on how to recruit people with autism for Project DA and how to create a support system within Gamuda for colleagues on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
That same year, Gamuda’s HR Director had approached me to see if I was interested in joining the newly established Project DA. As much as I thought it would’ve been a splendid opportunity working with Gamuda, unfortunately, it just was not the right time as I had a national project to complete at the JICA-DSW joint project. Later in 2015, as the project was about to be completed, I was approached again to consider being a part of Project DA. I had always been impressed at the fact that a corporate organisation like Gamuda was steadfast in their commitment in employing people on the autism spectrum.
What the company was doing even then was hiring people with autism to work for their corporate office of various departments. This, to me, was very encouraging. And I thought to myself, even then, that Gamuda’s effort would be a great model for other companies to emulate. I officially became a part of Gamuda in January 2016.
REALISING TRUE POTENTIAL
In 2013, Gamuda initiated Project DA and since then, 20 individuals with autism have been gainfully employed. Inspired by this success, the Enabling Academy was initiated in 2016, with its Employment Transition Programme. Through this programme, trainees who are on the autism spectrum would undergo three months of pre-employment training, after which, they will be placed in companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in the workforce.
The job coaches of Enabling Academy work closely with our trainees one-on-one. We have a maximum of 10 trainees for each batch. We help them learn, accommodate and perform their work duties in a simulated environment. In addition to working on skills related to performing specific job tasks, our job coaches also help with interpersonal skills necessary in the workplace. This is notably crucial for employees with ASD.
HARD TO FORGET
At EA, each trainee is assigned a job coach who will journey with them during the three months of training. One of the main cores of our training focuses on Personal Development and Career Development. In the Personal Development module, these trainees are given the opportunity to discover their inner self, to talk about their past hurts due to bullies and rejections, to consider moving forward and developing a better self-esteem, self-confidence and self-acceptance. This development in inner self is indeed important as they move on into adulthood and become independent.
I fondly remember one of our graduates, Andrew Choo. He worked at a laundry of a hotel for nearly seven years never fully realising his potential. Now, he works as an officer assistant at MDC, a company that specialises in designing, manufacturing and supplying precast concrete product. The three-month training prepared him with skills relevant for administrative jobs – photocopying, archiving and basic accounting software for data entry.
It’s stories like this that inspire me to keep going. The graduates that have come through Enabling Academy are from diverse backgrounds and qualifications. Some of them have professional degrees in fields such as computer science, mechanical engineering, and chemical engineering but still, finding a job is difficult because of their deficit in social communication skills.
Every trainee that we have met through this programme have their unique characteristics. They have different level of social and cognitive skills. Some of them are sociable whilst others are reserved and take a longer time to socialise. But, we managed to help them improve on their social communications skills and most of all, we managed to find them companies that are able to understand and accept them and are willing to provide them professional jobs related to their fields of training.
Our team appreciates the experience knowing each of them in a personal way.
TO MORE FUTURES
Many youths with autism are quite lonely. This is mainly due to their deficit in social communication skills. However, through this programme, they have the opportunity to meet new friends that have common challenges due to their autism condition. Some of them continue to keep in touch even after the training. Each batch has their own whatsapp group. We hope their friendship will motivate them to support one another through their journey in life.
So far, 40 graduates have come through Enabling Academy’s Employment Transition Programme. In July this year, we will be welcoming our fifth intake. I hope that all our EA graduates who are placed for employment will sustain in their jobs and will have career progression. As for those with no professional degrees, we have plans for them. EA is an assessment centre for Recognition for Prior Achievement Certification approved by the Department of Skills Development (DSD) since 2018.
We are collaborating with DSD to organize assessment exams for EA graduates for SKM Level 2 and 3 (Certificate Level) in officer administration and hopefully, they too will gradually achieve Level 4 which is Diploma Level.
Enabling Academy aspires to continue to be committed to its goal in creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce in Malaysia.